With the days nearing an end for the more than 150-year-old oak tree, members of the Spring Lake Public School board expressed interest in having representatives participate in the community engagement session, slated for 5:45-6:45 p.m. July 9 at the tree.
Superintendent Dennis Furton also sought the board’s guidance and thoughts on whether or not they would like to write a letter to Village Council regarding changes to the drop-off/pick-up lane outside of the school once the tree is removed.
Last week, Spring Lake Village Council members unanimously approved authorizing Summit Tree Service to remove the tree in front of the school on property owned by Spring Lake Village. In the last three years, arborists have recommended the tree be removed due to damage its root system received after construction.
In 2015, the district requested the tree be removed to accommodate a new pick-up/drop-off lane. At the time of construction, the district planned to pay for the tree’s removal, Furton said. When Village council voted to keep the tree, the district altered construction plans, which included the lane shifting closer to the building.
Furton said they also had to re-engineer plans with a steeper staircase into the school, and push the curb out instead of cutting it closer to the tree.
“We incurred a significant expense at the time they rejected our request to have the tree removed at our expense,” Furton said.
With plans for the tree to be removed, Furton said he wants to see the grassy area restored and the curb straightened.
Treasurer Keith Frifeldt noted that the district would ask only for the curb to be straightened and not the stairs or sidewalk to be restored to the original plan.
By restoring the curb’s original design, Furton said it would be easier to turn into the school’s driveway if there are other cars parked there.
While Trustee Rob Davidson said the entrance hasn’t felt strained to him during drop off, Trustee Jennifer Nicles said depending on if parents park right out to the road, drivers have to go out into the road to fit into the drive.
President Jeff Lauinger said once traces of the tree are gone, there’s also an aesthetic element to straightening the curb.
When asked if the board has interest in co-hosting the community engagement meeting, Davidson said he believes it would be a good idea to have members participate, but co-hosting would acknowledge ownership — which the Village has — over the tree.
Members of the board also discussed the possibility of the tree being carved — one of the options that has been mentioned regarding the future of the tree.
Given its location, Furton said he thinks people might perceive it as the district’s property, and it could potentially be vandalized. He said if a carving could be relocated and the district had discretion to decide its location, they could find a place for it.
Frifeldt said he could see concerns regarding vandalism and people thinking it’s the district’s property given the location, and Trustee Kathy Breen agreed that it could open the door to future problems.
Lauinger also said he believes the district should look for options and places where they can plan trees.
Furton noted that if the district can find the right locations, it wouldn’t be a problem.
“It’s just a matter of finding that space to put it in,” he said. “Right now, we’re finishing up our bond work, so it’s a good time.”
During the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting prior to the board’s discussion, Village Manager Chris Burns read a letter to Furton and the board, which shared an update about the tree. Burns said Village residents and elected officials were passionate about preserving the tree since the construction, but their efforts were in vain.
Given Village Council’s concerns about safety, they voted to remove the tree. She said they hope the district would participate in the community engagement meetings.
During next month’s meeting, people will share how to best “memorialize the landmark,” and ideas will be taken to Village Council for consideration. Burns noted that several people have suggested planting trees in right-of-way of school property.
Burns said the Village is a benefactor of the Victoria Verplank Memorial Fund, and they have a tree nursery from which to select new trees to plant. Burns said she hoped the district would agree to plant trees along the Hammond corridor, and they would offer several from which they could choose.
Village President Mark Powers also spoke during public comment. A 1988 Spring Lake alumnus, Powers said that he would like it if the district contributed to the local tree canopy. Powers said as a graduate of University of Michigan and Michigan State University, he thinks trees lend a lot to the schools, and the communities have a commitment to tree growth.
He also noted that if the district wants the Village to change the curb, the district needs to put the request in writing.